"4 Tips for Leading Across Generations "
Newsletter Jan 8, 2015
Today's managers face the interesting challenge of balancing the needs of four different generations in the workforce. For an interesting exercise, ask each employee when they first used a computer. Some may have been middle aged while others have been using them since they could walk. Striking a balance between the different wants and needs of employees from each generation can seem like a never ending chore, but it can in fact provide you with a competitive advantage. The young will not be the ones adapting to the older generation, it will be the other way around and this will put a lot of pressure on older generation managers. This week we'll be looking at four ways to make the most of a multi-generational workforce.
1.Know the general traits of each generation.
From veterans to the millennials, every generation has had very different life shaping experiences and role models that have guided their personalities and goals. The key to working with different generations is to know what they value and what drives them. Veterans may be viewed as more traditional, disciplined, and logical, while Gen X might seem independent, informal, and skeptical of tradition in contrast. It's important to recognize different values across generations, but also necessary to avoid generalizations. Every individual is unique and there will be exceptions to the rule. Your findings about each generation should act as a guideline, not a blueprint. This means spending time communicating with your team and not just on task details. Go deeper and learn what are their values, their aspirations, their fears?
2.Create power from diverse viewpoints.
Once you have established the traits of each generation in your workforce, use diversity to your advantage. Doing things the same way can lead to stagnation and limit your organization's ability to adapt. A young person may be able to provide some new insights or innovative ways to solve a challenging problem, while a veteran has the wisdom and experience to know a good idea from a poor one. Different viewpoints will help you to avoid blind spots that may be obvious to others. Hold meetings or brainstorming sessions with at least one person from each generation in your workforce. There is a tendency to look for teams with which we feel most comfortable. This may mean the team winds up looking a lot like us. This could be dangerous because the diversity may not be there in sufficient quantities and we may fall into "group think".
3.Target feedback to each generation.
Here are some general rules of thumb to consider when approaching different generations.
a. Veterans: "No news is good news." Veterans don't seek feedback or expect it but appreciate acknowledgement that they have made a difference.
b. Boomers: "Feedback once a year and put it in writing." Boomers don't expect feedback, particularly positive feedback, except for an annual review.
c. Gen-Xers: "Sorry to interrupt, but how am I doing?" Gen X-ers need feedback to assure themselves that they are on the right track and to stay motivated.
d. Millennials: "Feedback when I want it at the push of a button." Millennials are used to continuous feedback, input, and praise. They need to know what they are doing right and wrong.
For older managers, the younger generation can come across as "high maintenance" and seem self-absorbed. Good luck with trying to "correct" those traits. It will be more effective to play to their strengths, than to try and make them like you. The trick is to see their strengths as being different, not wrong.
4. Motivate and coach your employees.
Despite their differences, all generations require some motivation and coaching to be effective. Everyone desires a positive relationship with their manager, stimulating work, recognition and appreciation, opportunities for growth, competitive compensation, and a healthy work-life balance. A mentorship program can prove to be very effective at increasing collaboration. Try pairing up different generations and seeing what works. Veterans and millennials can be a great fit as veterans have years of wisdom and experience to impart, while millennials are adept at learning and teaching new technology.
The most successful organizations will crack the code on getting the most out of their total team. The abilities of the young need to be found and the communication patterns that are the most effective need to be sought. The future of work will be more complicated and managers must study how to adapt.